The Tufted Duck is the UK’s most common diving duck and a familiar sight on lakes and ponds across the country. Known for their long, hair-like tufts, these small waterfowl are fairly easy to identify but may be confused with other ducks from the Aythya genus.
Female Tufted Duck
Female Tufted Duck swimming with her young
Tufted Duck taking-off from the reservoir
Female Tufted Duck on land flapping
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
40cm to 47cm
65cm to 73cm
450g to 1.02kg
Adult male Tufted Ducks have a distinctive hanging crest. From a distance, these small ducks appear black with large white patches on their sides. Their dark plumage has a beautiful oily iridescence that reflects purple and green in good light. They have yellow eyes and a pale blue bill with a dark tip.
Female Tufted Ducks are easily distinguished from males. They have a much shorter tuft and lack the conspicuous white sides of the male. They have brown sides and dark brown upper parts without the purple gloss of the males. Some females have a whitish patch of plumage around the base of their bill.
In the UK, females are most likely to be confused with female Pochard and Scaup. American birdwatchers should rule out Greater and Lesser Scaup, which are common migratory waterfowl in the USA. Juvenile Tufted Ducks resemble adult females but have darker eyes and a darker bill.
Male Tufted Duck
Female Tufted Duck
Tufted Ducks are small waterfowl, much larger than the Teal but smaller than the Mallard. Hens are slightly smaller than drakes on average.
Tufted Ducks have a body length of 40 to 47 centimetres or 16 to 18 inches.
Male Tufted Ducks weigh 600 to 1020 grams (1lb 5oz - 2lb 4oz), while females weigh 560 to 930 grams (1lb 4oz - 2lb 1oz).
They have a wingspan of 65 to 73 centimetres or 25 to 29 inches.
Tufted Duck on the rocks flapping
Tufted Ducks are generally quiet, although the males and females produce various soft calls during courtship, including quacks, whistles, and grunts. They also call in flight and to communicate with their young.
Tufted Duck swimming in the lake
Tufted Ducks are omnivorous, feeding on aquatic vegetation and invertebrates. Molluscs like snails and mussels are their most important food source, although they also eat small insects and crustaceans.
These diving ducks find most of their food down on the bottom, although they also dabble and take food from the surface.
Tufted Duck ducklings eat insects and seeds. They feed themselves and can dive down to find food as soon as they leave the nest.
Tufted Duck with a mussel in its beak
Tufted Ducks inhabit a variety of freshwater habitats. They prefer moderately deep (3-5m) still waters, although you may spot them in any of the following habitats:
Tufted Ducks are widespread in the UK, occurring practically everywhere except high-lying areas in the north of Scotland. They are widely distributed in the old world, from Iceland in the west to Japan and the Bering Sea in the east.
They also visit North and East Africa in the non-breeding season. Tufted Ducks are a rarity in the United States and Canada, although vagrants turn up on both the west and east coasts.
Tufted Ducks are highly aquatic waterfowl that are most comfortable out on the water. They also spend time on land, floating vegetation, or islands when nesting but remain near the water’s edge.
Tufted Ducks resting on land near to the water
Tufted Ducks are common waterfowl, with up to 19,000 resident breeding pairs in the UK. Their numbers increase greatly in the winter when over a hundred thousand birds arrive from Mainland Europe and Asia.
Tufted Ducks are very rare in the United States. Vagrants occasionally arrive from Europe to the east and Asia to the west.
Birdwatchers can spot Tufted Ducks on just about any freshwater body in the UK, including lakes, ponds, rivers, and even in urban areas. These attractive waterfowl are present throughout the year, although they are most common in the winter months.
Male (right) and Female (left) swimming together in the lake
Tufted Ducks have a typical lifespan of about four years, although they can live for over 24 years.
Adult Tufted Ducks have few enemies, although their eggs and ducklings are more vulnerable. Nest predators include Marsh Harriers, Crows, Ravens, and Mink.
Tufted Ducks are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Tufted Ducks are a ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List and have a green conservation status in the United Kingdom. They are not endangered and have a stable population trend.
Tufted Ducks flying over the water
Tufted Ducks nest on the ground, often between grass or other vegetation. They nest alone or in small groups with several meters between nests. Females build their nests from grass stalks and line them with down and soft plant material.
Tufted Ducks begin breeding in their first year as adults. They start nesting in the spring when the female lays and incubates her eggs for 23 to 28 days. The ducklings associate with their mother for up to 42 days before she leaves them to fend for themselves.
Tufted Ducks lay a single clutch of eight to eleven grey-green eggs, each measuring about 59 millimetres long and 41 millimetres wide.
Tufted Ducks do not mate for life. Pairs form in spring and separate soon afterwards in the summer.
Nest of a Tufted duck with nine eggs
Tufted Ducks are social and gregarious, forming large flocks in the winter. These birds are not known for their aggression, although they may defend their nest territory in the breeding season.
Tufted Ducks sleep on the water. They are not strictly diurnal and may sleep during the day and feed at night.
Pair of Tufted Ducks sleeping on a log at the edge of a river
Tufted Ducks are a common resident species in England, although they are migratory in the north of the United Kingdom. Many individuals that breed in Scotland move south into Ireland and England for the non-breeding season.
These birds are highly migratory in other parts of their range, and large numbers migrate to the UK each winter after breeding in Scandinavia and Western Russia. Tufted Ducks that breed in Iceland spend the winter in Ireland.
Tufted Ducks are not native to North America. They occasionally reach American shores but do not breed or migrate there regularly.
Tufted Ducks are native to the United Kingdom, although their numbers have dramatically increased in the last three centuries. These birds colonised the British Isles in the mid-19th century after the introduction of a mollusc called the Zebra Mussel and have benefited greatly from the construction of new gravel pits and reservoirs.
Tufted Duck in-flight over lake
Tufted Ducks can dive to the impressive depth of 14 meters or about 46 feet, although most dives are down to about five meters. They dive frequently, spending up to 20 seconds under the water and often dive twice per minute.
Tufted Ducks generally feed on plants and slow-moving or stationary invertebrates. Fish are not a regular part of their diet, although they would probably take a small fish if they could catch it.
The Eurasian wigeon is a medium dabbling duck that commonly breeds across northern Europe, and winters further south, including in the British Isles and occasionally in North America. Rare vagrant breeding pairs can be found in the United States, and small breeding grounds have also been established in northern England and Scotland.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
Greater White-Fronted Goose
One of several similar wildfowl species in the Anser genus, Greater White-fronted Geese live up to their name with a distinctive white patch on the front of their face. The species is extremely widespread, although there are several sub-species, each with different breeding and overwintering ranges.
Larger than the Common Scoter this elegant European diving duck spends much of its time at sea and is often seen in company with mixed flocks resting on the water’s surface far out from land.
Tundra Bean Goose
The tundra bean goose is the most common species of bean goose, and breeds on Russian tundra landscapes. Winters are spent grazing on open fields, marshes and agricultural land in western and central Europe and East Asia.
Fast and erratic in flight, the Teal is the United Kingdom’s smallest wildfowl species. Despite occurring year-round in low numbers, birdwatchers are most likely to spot these tiny ducks in the winter when large numbers arrive from abroad.
Taiga Bean Goose
Taiga bean geese are a common sight on northern taiga marshes of Siberia and northern Scandinavia in spring and summer, before heading south into Europe each winter. Several hundred individuals spend winters in the UK, with rare vagrant visitors occasionally reported in North America.
One of seven American goose species, the Snow Goose is a noisy migrant that visits the Lower 48 states each winter. These beautiful birds have increased dramatically since the second half of the 20th century.
Despite being only a rare winter visitor to the British Isles, the Smew is one of the countrys most unmistakable and easily identified duck species. Breeding across Central Asia and returning to Western Europe during winter months, smews begin to turn up on inland lakes as well as in coastal regions from November onwards.
One look at the bill of a northern shoveler should be enough to provide you with an accurate species identification: their flattened shovel-like bills are unique among waterfowl and allow them to feed on tiny plankton by sweeping their heads across the water’s surface.
A large colourful duck, often found in coastal areas, the shelduck, is an established breeding waterbird in the UK. British wetlands are also a major wintering ground for the species, hosting up to 30 percent of Europe’s shelduck population each autumn.
A medium-sized diving duck, the greater scaup is known simply as the scaup in Europe, and locally as the ‘bluebill’ in North America. Only a handful of scaup breed in the UK, making it the rarest breeding duck in the British Isles.
A striking and fascinating little diving duck with an unusual courtship display, the Ruddy Duck is a widespread migrant in North America.
Colourful and instantly recognisable diving ducks, red-crested pochards are present in the UK in small numbers, believed to have initially been introduced into the wild from private wildfowl collections. Some breeding does occur in Britain, although the best chance of a sighting comes with the arrival of several hundred migrants each winter.
A speedy migratory wildfowl with a hardcore hairstyle, the Red-breasted Merganser is widespread in coastal and estuarine habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
During the winter the population of this rare resident breeding duck increases by 55 times to that of the summer, with the influx of many thousands of others overwintering, having arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern Pintails are distinctive migratory waterfowl. Drakes in breeding plumage are particularly attractive, although the drabber females and non-breeding males are still identifiable by their long necks and graceful form.
Although the pink-footed goose does not breed in Britain, it is a common winter visitor, with over half a million migrating individuals arriving each autumn from breeding grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard peninsula.
One of the world’s heaviest flying birds, and one of the most beautiful too, the Mute Swan is a majestic waterfowl with a mean reputation.
Sightings of wild Mandarin Ducks in the United States cause quite a stir, and it’s easy to see why. These small but eye-catching waterfowl are, in fact, native to the Far East of Asia, although their popularity as an ornamental species has resulted in their introduction to many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.
Instantly recognizable, the Mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck that is familiar to people all over the world. These adaptable waterfowl are the ancestor of the modern domestic duck and are found everywhere from remote wilderness lakes to suburban backyards.
One of the most distinctive duck breeds, thanks to their extended streaming tail feathers, the long-tailed duck is a coastal waterbird that spends winters at sea, foraging for crustaceans in marine waters, after breeding on Arctic tundra landscapes.
The Greylag goose is the largest grey goose from the Anser genus of the Anatidae family of waterbirds. A stout, robust and heavyweight bird, the Greylag goose is the closest wild relative and ancestor to the domestic goose. Greylag geese are distributed across much of Europe and Asia, extending into eastern Russia and China. Most populations migrate, but some are sedentary, including in much of Northern Europe.
Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, the common merganser is the largest of the saw billed fish eating ducks. There are three sub-species with the Eurasian variant frequently known as the Goosander.
Goldeneyes are distinctive diving ducks that thrive in cold environments, breeding in boreal forests across Canada, northern Scandinavia and northern Russia. Only when the lakes and coastal areas on their summer territories begin to freeze over as fall approaches do they begin to head south to milder regions where they spend winter months foraging on inland lakes and around sheltered bays.
The Gargeney is a dabbling duck, slightly smaller than a mallard, and considered a rare breeder in the UK, with just over 100 pairs recorded. A fully migratory species, all garganeys spend winters in southern Africa, leaving breeding grounds as early as July, so your window for spotting one on British waters is only a very brief one.
The Gadwall is a widely distributed dabbling duck of the Anatidae family that breeds in the Northern Hemisphere. This hardy duck breeds as far north as Siberia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and coastal Alaska and is found across both the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large and widespread sea duck that is perhaps best known for its valuable insulating down feathers.
Regarded as being sacred by early Egyptians, this native goose of the African continent was introduced into Europe and elsewhere as an ornamental wildfowl species in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The word scoter is often used to define northern sea ducks. There are six different species of scoter, all of which are monotypic and three of which are confined to North America. The Common Scoter like the Velvet Scoter can only be found in Europe and Asia whilst the Stejneger’s Scoter is a native of Asia alone.
Once decimated through overhunting and habitat destruction, the Canada Goose has rebounded to become one of North America’s most abundant and familiar wildfowl.
A small goose species with a short, stubby bill, the brent goose (or brant, as it is known in North America), breeds in the high Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Siberian Russia and northern Europe’s Arctic islands. Brant spend winters along North America’s Pacific coast, part of the east coast of the US, and in north-western Europe, from the British Isles to Denmark.
A subspecies of the North American tundra swan, Bewick’s swans breed in Siberia and arrive in the UK each autumn. Worrying declines have been observed in the European population in recent years, and today only around 4,350 individuals migrate to the UK each winter.
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